Boy Code & mens mental health

Have you ever considered that there may be a set of unwritten or unspoken rules or expectations about being a ‘man’ in society?

And what does being a ‘man’ even mean? I attended a mental health workshop earlier this year which was all about this & found it enlightening both personally & professionally. Until that point I hadn’t thought about it & men’s mental health in quite this way. I hadn’t heard about Boy Code. The workshop titled ‘Lives of Quiet Desperation’ was hosted by Simon Roe & his colleague Lee Stagles. In this they introduced the notion of these unspoken rules titled the ‘The Boy Code’. 

The Boy Code

This was introduced & coined by an author called William Pollack. In 1998, Pollack wrote a book entitled Real Boys: Rescuing Our Boys From the Myths of Boyhood. He described this as the requirement that boys should be stoic and independent, macho and athletic, powerful and dominant, and phobic of anything close to feminine (e.g. warm, empathetic or sensitive). The book being based on Pollack’s research at Harvard Medical School spanning over two decades, Real Boys explores why many boys feel sad, lonely, and confused. In it he considers the problems boys face in adolescence and gives parents suggestions for helping their sons, urging them to take their sons’ feelings seriously & to consider their mental health. Boys, he explains, need our sympathy and reassurance as they struggle with contradictory cultural expectations — the push to be macho men and the pull to be sensitive souls.

During this workshop we considered the lives of significant male figures in our lives & the possible pressures & expectations, We asked did they live a life of constraint or did they free themselves? We also questioned whether these rules are archaic & if society has moved on & if so to what degree? Had any of these men considered therapy or counselling or was there a stigma around sharing or reaching out? That is certainly all still open for debate. 

Take aways

Perhaps the biggest take away for me was the realisation that I was raised according to some sort of boy code that my Dad had lived by. This really hit home with me & stayed with me for some time. It fitted & brought a sense of relief with it in understanding. 

Professionally I talk about this with clients, no matter the gender, & we get curious about it. I have found it has also been particularly useful for clients who have been to boarding school & I imagine it’s worth getting curious about for many people whether it be for them, friends, colleagues or family members. I do wonder how much this plays a part in men being hesitant to share, talk or reach out for therapy or counselling. 


Inside The World of Boys: Behind the Mask of Masculinity

I get a little down,” Adam confessed, “but I’m very good at hiding it. 

It’s like I wear a mask. Even when the kids call me names or taunt me, I never show them how much it crushes me inside.

I keep it all in.

Reference; William S. Pollack, Real Boys: Rescuing Our Boys From the Myths of Boyhood (United States: Owl Books, 1998).